Relating to the events of September, 1837 through February, 1838
Bernice repeated her thanks to the kitchen-maid as she set the tray of cheese, bread, and tea cakes on the table before Mr. Worthington. In spite of the late hour, Madame Tourette had insisted on manning the kitchen and attending to the guest. Bernice caught a glimpse of the kindly matron, standing down the hall by the kitchen door, observing with approval the performance of her youngest worker. Bernice smiled at her and bowed in gratitude. She responded with a gentle curtsy.
The cook, and manager of the house staff, had been with her relatives’ family for almost four decades. Bernice had often thought that of all in the house she actually understood her best. It was more than just her French roots that gave the woman a different view of their world. In her youth she had lived in a neighborhood full of immigrants, some fleeing the Austrian War, some from as far as Russia, slowly making their way West on their journey to seek a new life across the Atlantic.
Without ever traveling more than 10 kilometers from her place of birth, she had seen the world; it had come to her doorstep. When she went to England to work in her teens, she took that treasure of knowledge with her. With an intelligence far above what was expected of her station, she mastered the subtleties of British society and learned to make herself indispensible. A brief appointment with a statesman in the foreign office eventually led to her service at Bernice’s Uncle’s house, where she excelled at anticipating the likes and dislikes of the visiting diplomats.
Of all in the house, her admiration for Bernice’s chosen profession was the most sincere and, in a way, the most appreciated. Even that summer when her cousins and her Aunt were all aflutter over the prospects of Bernice’s engagement, it had been Madame Tourette that, without discouraging her, had kept Bernice on an even keel. In those late night conversations, she reminded her of her dreams; and with gentle questions, she helped her to plan for a way to keep them alive, even as a Lady of Victorian England.
It was on her bosom that Bernice had cried the longest on the evening of the funeral of her first love.
Seven years had passed, and that strong, kind woman was still watching over her.
Bernice closed the door of the library gently. She found Worthington’s eyes coming down from the corridor. “You are a widower Mr. Worthington.” Bernice surprised herself at how freely she had spoken that thought.
Worthington saw the tinge of embarrassment on Bernice’s cheeks. “A handsome and elegant woman,” he nodded at the door as he replied unabashed. Before she apologized for being so familiar he added: “It has been almost ten years since my dear Magdalena passed away. However, if your genius extends to the matchmaking arts, perhaps I will not spend my remaining years without a soft hand by my side.” His smile was broad.
Bernice accepted it and sat down again. She felt at ease, secure in the old soldier’s company. His strength, his openness, his unwavering loyalty were all the more noteworthy in light of the life he lived, and the things he had seen. After a brief repast he continued his story.
“Lady Masveh returned two days later. Her attitude toward us, particularly toward the master, seemed to have been changed by that brief absence. She asked to see all the records we had gathered on the assaults perpetrated by this Spring-heeled Jack. She seemed particularly concerned with the welfare of the women assaulted; inquiring if any of them had been plagued by nightmares since they were terrorized.
“‘It would be noteworthy were it otherwise.’ The master’s dismissive comment elicited no reaction from Masveh, her eyes insisting on an answer. With a glance, he charged me to ascertain those facts while he handed her the documents.
“Elias examined them too. The connection of the fiend to the businessmen, and therefore to the book, meant it was relevant to his own investigation. Elias had briefed us on that mission of his. He and Masveh had spent the previous year in Poland, tracking the source of the money that had financed the search for the mysterious book; for he had found evidence that the source was the same that had funded and instigated the riots of 1819 in Germany and 1821 in Odessa. From that point Elias had returned to Constantinople while Masveh had followed the trail of the book that led to England. Neither had paid attention to the British newspapers over that time.
“Masveh compared our notes to the records at libraries and at the newspaper offices. After visiting the Royal Observatory she spent the night making annotations of her own, and performing extensive calculations upon a strange arrangement of number tables she had drawn.
“That led to a second visit to the Observatory the next morning, including several interviews with the astronomers. But her questions to them had nothing to do with the master’s tabulation of sunspot occurrence; she took his numbers as fact. Instead she interrogated them at length on the use of the Ephemeris and their understanding of the Solar System. The rest of the day she drew diagrams on large sheets of paper.”
Worthington paused for a moment, and nodded his head. “There is something strangely unnerving about seeing a person draw a perfect circle with a single sweep of the arm. Starting point and ending point met exactly, closing each circle in an imperceptible seam whose location was only revealed by the faint sprinkling of charcoal dust from the first contact between pencil and vellum.
“She was drawing diagrams of the inner planets in their orbits around the sun. The diameters were rendered to scale. On each orbit she added a small circle the size of a demitasse, marked by the zodiacal symbol for each planet. On those diagrams she measured with her rulers, consulted her tables of numbers, and then started the process over again.
“Her first pause came at evening time. Once the sky had become dark enough to see the multitude of the stars, she stood unmoving on the balcony staring at the heavens. Although it was clear that her mind was still engaged in the computations, it seemed to me that there was a relaxing of her brow, a brightening of her eyes. It was something almost childlike, yes, like wonder. It was like she was seeing the sky, really seeing it, for the first time. Again I felt that soft purr reverberating from her person.
“For the next two days we continued our work while she labored on her diagrams and calculations, pausing only to drink water. The third day she asked for food and consumed it greedily. By morning light she gave us her verdict. We had until mid February to make our plans, for she predicted that the sunspot count would again drop around that time.
“That revelation prompted the master to seek confirmation of his conjecture regarding the effect of the activity of the Sun on the fey. Lady Masveh remained silent for a few seconds, perhaps evaluating the degree to which she trusted this man. She answered tangentially. ‘You realize your hypothesis does not explain the similarities in behavior between the creature you faced in 1815 and this one.’
“Her evasion made it plain we had not earned her complete confidence. But that was certainly better than open hostility. In war you seldom enjoy the complete support of your allies; and your enemies certainly do not yield information willingly. This is why I adopted the habit of committing to memory every meeting I attended in the service of Lord Hallowstone, not just what happened but the exact words spoken. Of necessity, the contemporaneous interpretation of a conversation is at best incomplete, and at times purposely led off the mark. But after the fact, when additional data has been gathered, the same words analyzed again can reveal a new wealth of information, not only based on what was said, but on what was left unsaid.
“The master acknowledged Masveh’s challenge. ‘Yes, Diderici’s rampage ran through a period of vanishingly low sunspot activity. This one now, according to the earliest reports we could gather, commenced its assaults almost a year ago, September of ‘36, a month notable only by its drop in sunspot count from well over one hundred the previous months to ninety-five. But even that is ten to a hundred times higher than it was between 1809 and 1815.’
“Masveh continued for him. ‘And since then the count has been consistently over a hundred; and yet the aggressor seems to attack at will.’ Masveh allowed him to mull over the contradiction in the facts one more time.
“But the master insisted: ‘His activity ceased as abruptly as it started when the count again dropped below one hundred this September. There must be a connection. I am a first-hand witness to the fact that this man’s physical behavior mirrors that of Diderici.’
“‘You are wasting time.’ She said. ‘You want to find this Spring-heeled Jack? Find the man who took the mineral powder from Crosse’s laboratory.’
“Lord Hallowstone studied her face for a few seconds. ‘You found him that night at Crosse’s house, why can’t you find him now?’
“‘He is no longer under fey influence, my instruments cannot locate him.’ Her frank answer was a surprise.
“Up to that point we had not been sure of the level of importance to assign to Neville Wilshire, the man who had given the businessmen the mysterious book and stolen the mineral powder from Crosse’s laboratory. I leaned toward his role being that of a pawn, an intermediary. It seemed to me that, had he known of the promises of power the book held in occult circles, he would not have parted with it so readily.
“Even if he had been ignorant of its value initially, surely after witnessing the extent of the effort expended by his partners to unravel the secrets of that book (their search for experts in arcane languages, at any cost, could not have gone unnoticed by him) his demeanor would have betrayed some level of jealousy or regret. Yet from our combined observation in Crosse’s house, his attitude towards these businessmen was, if anything, unremarkable, as if all that was transpiring was beyond his notice or understanding.
“Lord Hallowstone asked another question: ‘Are there fey in the caves under Crosse’s estate?’
“‘That is natural land to a tribe of cave dwellers, brood of Ikal.’
“The master bowed his head in thanks for the direct answer. He had heard that term, ikal, before. It comes from an ancient linguistic root common to most of the South American and Centro American Indians, meaning black, describing a sort of small, hairy dark animal or demon that terrorizes natives traveling alone in the jungles.
“The master ventured to ask a direct question again: ‘What about the mineral powder containing supposedly spontaneously generated life, what is its role in this business?’
“‘I do not know.’ Her reply to his question was immediate.
“‘You are lying.’
“‘That is what fey do,’ she retorted unwavering.
“‘Very well,’ the glance we shared told me that he felt we had obtained far more than we could have expected from this exchange. The woman had accepted him at least as an equal.
“He explained to her the plans we had made during her absence, to locate Wilshire and determine the nature of the relationship between Crosse and the activities surrounding the book: ‘Wilshire is at present out of the country, according to his solicitor. His relatives have not seen him for over a year. Sporadic letters and cards indicate that over the last three years he has traveled regularly to India.’
“‘The staff at his apartments in London expect him to return before Christmastide.’ I added.
“The master went on: ‘We shall construct an opportunity to gather all parties of interest together. I have an associate here in the East End, a Mr. Ashworth, at 2 Turner Street, who is, as we speak, making the preparations. The American magnate, Otis Beaumont, will soon announce a celebration: a society ball to which he will invite his fellow businessmen and Mr. Wilshire and Mr. Crosse. There will be plenty of entertainment and alcohol to lower their guard. We will then observe and interview; and afterwards each one of our quarries will be followed by one of my agents. If any of them is in league with the Spring-heeled Jack, it will be us who set the trap.’
“Lady Masveh nodded her approval. ‘What will be the pretext for the occasion?’
“The master shrugged as he answered: ‘The arrival of Beaumont’s niece and ward from America who finally will be of age to come out in society.’”
Worthington paused his narrative momentarily to chuckle at the image in his memory. “Santiago’s answer was still on his lips when Lady Masveh was suddenly replaced by a damsel, barely sixteen, perfect in every detail, from the blonde ringlets at her temples to the petticoat-laden bell skirt. Her eyes changed color from green to blue as she measured our reaction to them. It was truly startling.
“‘That will do,’ was all the master said, suppressing with understatement the shock we had shared. I knew what went through his mind in that instant. The Comtes de Saint Germain and their armies of trained soldiers, experts in subtility, disguise and infiltration, were children playing dress-up in comparison with this woman. With the power of such perfect illusion, what could he not accomplish?
“Yes, there was a flash of envy in his eyes… directed at Elias, who had somehow earned this fey marvel’s unremitting allegiance. Elias caught that look and winked back at him. His smile brought a smile to Lord Hallowstone’s face. He gladly welcomed their alliance.